I almost died at the age of 32 because of genetic colon cancer and the radiation I received. Living through such an experience, I have and am still doing extensive research from reputable sources, including my own oncologist, on the subject of cancer. Can working the graveyard shift cause cancer? What I’ve found may shock you.
Light Up the Night:
What do lights have to do with cancer? According to The National Cancer Society, artificial lighting that you are exposed to while you should be sleeping can cause your body to produce less or no melatonin. Melatonin is produced in response to darkness. Why is this important? Previous as well as current studies have made a possible link between low melatonin levels and cancer. People who work night shifts may be at a higher risk for cancer because when the body is constantly exposed to artificial lighting, melatonin levels drop or completely cease. Our natural circadian rhythm is set. When we disrupt it; the body doesn’t function properly. When I think back to the years I worked the graveyard shift; I remember feeling exhausted, completely ‘off’, had difficulty sleeping in the day, and didn’t take as much care of myself as I should have. Here’s the really interesting thing, according to the size of my tumor and how much it had spread, this was the time period that it started growing. Is that a coincidence? Maybe, but I think there’s more to it than that.
Disrupting the Body’s Circadian Rhythm:
By working the graveyard shift and disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm, we are taking a dangerous gamble with our health. There has been a steady rise in cancer that happens to coincide with increased night time jobs and artificial lighting. Is there a connection or is it just coincidence? After all, a lot of things we are exposed to can cause cancer.
In one study conducted at James Graham Brown Cancer Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Louisville School of Medicine, in Kentucky, researchers state, “Emerging data in the human and animal literature suggest that circadian regulation may be an important prerequisite for the maintenance of host defenses against cancer. Thus, stress-related circadian disruption may have negative implications for cancer prognosis.” In simple terms, this study suggests that by staying up all night and working, rather than sleeping, our body’s normal defenses against cancer cells are not as strong or can even become nonexistent. The human body can regulate itself perfectly normally, but becomes confused when we deprive ourselves of sleep and darkness. It’s like trying to drive a car with no oil. You might make it a little way down the road but eventually, something is going to go terribly wrong and the entire system will shut down.
Immune System and Genetics:
I wanted to touch on this subject because it’s a little controversial. If you have a genetic predisposition for cancer, does it mean you will get cancer? I have HNPCC, otherwise known as Lynch Syndrome. I have an extremely high risk (over 80 percent) of developing colon, uterine, and ovarian cancer in my lifetime, and I did develop it. The question I’m interested in is, “Could it have been avoided?” That’s where the immune system comes in. Did working graveyard shift and producing little or no melatonin cause my body’s immune system to work improperly, allowing the cancer to take hold? Not everyone who has the HNPCC gene develops cancer.
I believe it is entirely possible (after reading these studies) that while I may have had an extraordinarily high chance of developing cancer, working the graveyard shift, dealing with stress, and not sleeping or eating correctly for a time, gave the cancer cells in my body all of the chance they needed to take hold.
More from Carrie:
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5FU Chemotherapy: Killing Patients?
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